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Why did the British Army mercilessly discard top notch tank?


When it comes to the main battle tank, many people count The British Challenger 2 MBT as one of the best tanks “with the best protection performance in the world”.

Why did the British Army decide to phase out the Challenger 2 tank when this tank is rated as the world’s leading performance? Does the British Army have a plan to replace the Challenger 2 tank with the Ajax armored vehicle?

Why did the British Army remove tanks from service?

On the battlefields of Iraq in 2006, a British Challenger 2 was hit by several Milan anti-tank missiles and RPG anti-tank rounds. As a result, only the aiming device was damaged, and the crew was unharmed. Therefore, it is not difficult to see the solid protection of Challenger 2 on the battlefield.

The shocking thing is that in 2009, BAE Systems, the largest British weapons manufacturer, announced that it would close the Challenger 2 tank production line. Later the British government announced it would Reduce the number of Challenger 2s from 227 to 170 in 5 years.

The number of tanks of the British Army after the reduction, is not only much lower than countries like Germany, Poland, but also less than countries like France and Serbia.

British Army Challenger 2 tank.
British Army Challenger 2 tank.

Some analysts believe that the Challenger 2 tank is gradually being phased out of service because of the tank itself. In terms of upgradeability, the Challenger 2 is close to the edge of its capabilities. Another part of the reason may come from British policymakers’ judgment on the European situation.

The Challenger 2 tank is derived from the upgrade of the Challenger 1 tank. The technical origin of the Challenger 1 was the export Chief 900 tank, not the new generation MBT-80 tank, which was intended to be replaced main battle tank.

Differences in British design and conservatism led to some inherent defects of the Challenger 2 tank. For example, it was not until 2019 that the Challenger 2 was equipped with a better performing 120mm smoothbore gun.

In terms of engine power, Challenger 2 uses a turbocharged diesel engine of 1,200 horsepower, however, the vehicle weight is up to 70 tons, so the maneuverability of the Challenger 2 is limited. Its fire control system was also outdated.

This shortcoming was not obvious before, but comparing the technical features of main tanks in the world, this limitation of the Challenger 2 tank is gradually revealing.

To keep up with the pace of development, the Challenger 2 tank had to be improved and upgraded, but technical difficulties and financial investment became one of the reasons why the Challenger 2 tank was gradually phased out.

In 2002, the last Challenger 2s ordered by the British Army were delivered. However, in the next British development plan for a new generation of land combat weapons, they no longer have any research and development projects for main battle tanks.

Some experts believe that this process reflects the British military’s perception of the changed form of combat. First of all, they argue that modern warfare is less likely to use large-scale tanks, and combat in urban environments has increased. Second, future wars will have higher requirements for battlefield situational awareness. The third is that there are more and more effective anti-tank weapons, so in order for the main battle tank to play its role, better assistants are needed to “support”. The fourth is that Britain’s geographical advantage is surrounded by the sea and has NATO forces outside, so the development of British main battle tanks may not be necessary.

In fact, stopping equipping tanks stems from the strategic awareness of the British. As early as 2006, the British Ministry of Defense stated that, with the development of technologies such as UAVs, hypersonic weapons and artificial intelligence, the British Army must gradually shift its focus to new areas such as the maritime force, air force and cyber warfare.

Therefore, it can be said that Britain’s reduction of main battle tanks and the development of new armored vehicles is in line with the inevitable development trend of modern warfare.

Will the Ajax replace the Challenger 2?

The reduction in the number of main battle tanks and the appearance of Ajax armored vehicles in the British Army, give one the illusion that “the two sides are an alternative relationship”.

The reality is not so, in terms of numbers, the Ajax armored vehicle is not a replacement for the main battle tank of Challenger 2, but in fact replaces the old British FV armored vehicle, even including the latest FV510 Samurai infantry fighting vehicle, expected to be retired from 2025.

According to the information, the Ajax armored vehicle is based on the ASCOD armored vehicle platform jointly built by Spain and Austria. This makes the Ajax armored vehicle more prone to the features of an infantry fighting vehicle, and has many different versions.

In 2016, the UK completed a live-fire test of the weapon system on the turret of the Ajax armored vehicle in Wales. Compared with other infantry fighting vehicles, the Ajax armored vehicle has more protection and firepower.

In terms of protection, the Ajax armored vehicle is “traditionally inherited” from the heavy armored Challenger 2 tank, so the vehicle weighs from 38 to 42 tons, which is evident in the thick armor. The new Chobham composite armor, developed for Ajax, can deal with various threats and has a certain degree of resistance to homemade bombs.

The vehicle also uses a modular design, an infrared stealth system that adapts to the battlefield, can synchronize the body temperature with the ambient temperature and can hide when the enemy uses an infrared camera.

In terms of firepower, the Ajax combat reconnaissance vehicle is equipped with a new remote controlled turret, an infrared sighting system, a 40mm canon, and a remote-controlled 7.62mm machine gun.

The outstanding design of Ajax is the use of 40mm canon; Currently, in order to provide fire support for infantry combat, synergistically with battle tanks to sweep anti-tank forces and attack enemy light armored targets, infantry fighting vehicles around the world. are increasing their firepower and Ajax is no exception.

As a combat reconnaissance vehicle, Ajax’s situational awareness must come first, so Ajax has more than a dozen cameras mounted around the vehicle and photographs that can provide a panoramic view of the battlefield.

Ajax uses a digital fire control system, a thermal imager, a high-definition daytime camera, an eye-safe Orion laser rangefinder; making it a state-of-the-art, situational-aware, digital ground-based weapon platform in the combat zone.

Clearly, the British Army hopes to use these highly responsive, responsive and multi-modular armored vehicles to partially fill in the power “gap” after the Challenger 2 and next generation vehicles. Previously armored vehicles were gradually phased out of service.

Advantages and challenges for Ajax combat armored vehicles

Replacing the old generation of armored vehicles with a new generation of armored vehicles also means that the performance of armored vehicles continues to increase, but the risks also increase. This is mainly reflected in 4 aspects.

First, some traditional features, such as the protection of armored vehicles, are constantly being enhanced. The total combat weight of the Ajax combat reconnaissance vehicle is 42 tons, and the protection system accounts for a large proportion of it. Such weight has the potential to cause unavoidable problems for armored vehicles.

The second is integrating multiple functions. For example, a combat reconnaissance vehicle must not only fulfill the wartime reconnaissance mission, but also have to play the role of an infantry fighting vehicle, which complicates the system.

British Ajax combat vehicle under test
British Ajax combat vehicle under test

The third is the need to act as an information node for an integrated warfare network. The Ajax armored vehicle will occupy an important place for the British military as it is the digital platform for ground weapons.

Fourth, new technologies must be used to power armored vehicles. The Ajax combat reconnaissance vehicle’s use of rocket launchers and battlefield adaptive infrared stealth systems reflects this.

But there are also many risks in this process, especially pioneering high technology, the more used, the greater the risk. Greater investment in primary products can cause system failure, due to excessive design requirements.

As a new generation of armored vehicles, Ajax armored vehicles still present both opportunities and challenges. According to foreign press, due to severe engine noise and mechanical vibration problems in the Ajax armored vehicle, hundreds of soldiers were injured after participating in the test and the test was immediately suspended. instantly.

In June of this year, the British Ministry of Defense convened many experts to investigate and evaluate the serious shaking problem of the Ajax armored vehicle, and said that the vehicle “not only cannot fire in running, but also cannot travel at speeds exceeding 32 kilometers per hour”.

From the above information, the future of the Ajax armored vehicle, scheduled for delivery between 2017 and 2024, can become confusing.


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